As Secondary English Teachers our heart is often on inspiring our students to engage with the texts being studied. In this regard, I believe we have been highly successful but when it comes to teaching a child how to read, we simply do not know how to do it. Segmenting and blending for us are linked more to our Sunday Night Baking Sessions rather than to ways that we can teach our kids to read. This must change!
In the paper entitled ‘Reading: The Next Steps’, Nick Gibb points out that in 2009, only 1 in 10 of those who failed to reach a Level 4 in Reading were able to go on to attain 5 good GCSEs. We can not ignore the reality: if our kids can’t read, their chances of success are severely limited.
So we must build readers in our classrooms, we must lift our struggling readers from the fringe and place them deep into the mix of things. To take this from talk to reality, it is incumbent upon us all to:
- Learn systematic synthetic phonics
- Offer 20 minute synthetic phonics lessons to all students on a ‘Level 3’ or below in our schools
- Utilise synthetic phonics activities as starters in mixed ability and lower attaining groups (so teach the sounds, link to key words and then ask students to apply this by using the key word in the lesson)
- Train our high attainers to teach synthetic phonics to their peers
- Utilise written spelling tests on a weekly basis
- Model the segmenting of words when writing on the whiteboard
- Ask your students to read aloud and to sound out and blend words that they might find difficult
Unless we do this, it is undoubtable that our students will continue to be left behind. We can not afford to let this happen. Additionally, de-stigmatising the use of synthetic phonics in our secondary schools is also crucial, which is why it is essential to use it in our starters and make it a regular part of classroom practice.